Why SA’s Deputy Ministers Post Needs To Be Wiped Out


Following suggestions by the Finance minister Pravin Gordhan and several other economic analysts that  government adopt a cost cut measure for the 2016 budget, government outlined its measure to achieve this.

This aside the removal of the post of deputy ministers, includes a R7 billion reduction in the public sector wage bill over the next three years as well as a reduction in travel costs, entertainment budgets, catering expenses and restrictions on conferences

The government took these measures following the staggering rand and a shrinking tax pool, to fund the government. It was also a response to the adverse report by the auditor-general on the government’s wasteful and irregular government expenditure, which stood at R25.7 billion for 2015.

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President Zuma had at the beginning of his second term in office, appointed a large cabinet consisting of 35 ministers and 37 deputy ministers. This increase was totally frowned at by experts and analyst who saw this as a means of wasting tax payers money.

Zuma’s cabinet seen as the largest when compared to countries like Russia which has only 23 ministers, China has a cabinet of 20 ministers; Botswana has a cabinet of 17 ministers and only seven deputy or assistant ministers; and even Nigeria which has 31 ministers.

Having a large cabinet shouldn’t have been a big issue if not for the financial implications of it. For instance, each South African deputy minister earns an annual package of R1, 901, 726 – the same as the speaker of parliament.  This, if added amount to about R70,363,862 a year excluding perks and allowances.

However, for the question on whether or not the deputy ministers need to be dismissed, one need to know what exact role they play in running the government affairs.  

Looking at Section 85 of the Constitution which gives executive authority to the president and cabinet; the Section 91, which states that the cabinet consists of the president, deputy president and ministers, the deputy ministers actually have no business in the cabinet and hence could not stand in for the minister at the ministers’ absence. 

In fact, Section 98 of the Constitution directs the president to pick a substitute or stand-in minister from among other cabinet ministers when one is absent or unable to carry out their duties. By implication, if a deputy minister were to be appointed acting minister, this would be unlawful.

As the accountability terms and responsibilities of ministers are set out in Section 92, deputy ministers exist in terms of Section 93 to “assist members of cabinet”. This suggests that the deputy ministers are only dependent on cabinet for work.

Unfortunately, there aren’t measurable checks and balances to ensure that they actually do any work. As the parliament is meant to oversee the activities of the minister and deputy minister, it is practically impossible for parliament to hold 37 deputy ministers to account in addition to all its other duties. 

It’s also possible to have cases where deputy ministers would lack fixed duties as seen in countries like Kenya where the deputy ministers complained that they were bored because their bosses, the ministers, were not giving them any work.

The SA constitution did not emphatically make it mandatory for the president to appoint a deputy minister. Section 93 (1) in fact stated that “The President “may” appoint …” them which indicates that the president can decide not to have deputy ministers at all.

Because deputy ministers are not part of cabinet and cannot perform executive functions they seem to play a largely political and ceremonial function by standing in for a minister, or reading speeches in the absence of the said minister.

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However, the deputy ministers can legislatively, introduce a bill in parliament in terms of Section 73 (2). But this is not a role unique to them, so eliminating the post would not present a challenge.

Critics may well argue that saving R70 million by cutting out deputy ministers is a drop in the ocean following South Africa’s R1 trillion budgets. But every cent saved by the state counts especially at this economically trying period. It would therefore be best to follow the example of countries that have abolished the post altogether.